By John Vogl
The Sabres ended the season hoping they'd have three first-round draft picks in June. As of now they'll have only one.
The New York Islanders announced this afternoon that they will keep the No. 5 overall selection and instead give Buffalo their first-round pick in 2015 as part of the Thomas Vanek trade. The Isles had until June 1 to decide which option to choose.
Buffalo, which finished last overall this season, will select second after losing the draft lottery to Florida. General Manager Tim Murray said after the season he would proceed as if the Sabres were getting the Islanders' pick, but the dream of two top-five selections is gone.
The Sabres, who remain in the early stages of rebuilding, possess three first-round picks in 2015 -- their own and those belonging to New York and St. Louis.
The Sabres also had a chance to earn St. Louis' first-round pick this year as part of the Ryan Miller trade. However, none of the three conditions that would send the Blues' top selection to Buffalo -- an appearance in the Western Conference final, the re-signing of Miller or a trade of the goaltender -- came to fruition.
There was a spirited debate as to which option the Islanders would choose for their first-round picks. The trade for Vanek didn't work for the Isles, who hoped his October arrival would help them make the playoffs. The team struggled, he turned down a $50 million contract offer and New York shipped him out at the trade deadline for less than it took to get him. It would have been tough for the franchise to take another lump by giving up such a high draft pick.
However, the 2015 draft features two franchise-changing talents in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. If the Islanders, who have a history of futility, finish near the bottom again and end up giving Buffalo a top-two selection, the decision to keep the 2014 pick would look foolish.
New York General Manager Garth Snow is more concerned about the immediate future, which could be helped by this year's pick. Shortly after announcing their decision, New York signed former Sabres goaltender Jaroslav Halak to a four-year contract.